Yaya Touré Should Get the Recognition he Deserves: FabAfriq Setting the Pace!

Yaya Toure, The Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder has won league titles in four countries – Ivory Coast, Greece, Spain and England –  and the Champions League in 2009 with FC Barcelona.

FabAfriq Cover

This 2013/2014 season alone, Yaya Toure made 35 appearances in the Premier League, scored an impressive 20 goals with 9 assists and helping his team win the title. He came third in goals, beaten by Liverpool strikers Luis Suarez (31 goals) and Daniel Sturridge (21 goals).

With such an impressive record, it would be expected that Toure will be a serious contender for any football awards in the world. This unfortunately has not been the case, which made teammate Samir Nasri to point out that Yaya would be celebrated as the world’s greatest midfielder but for the fact he is African.

These sentiments are confirmed by Toure himself in an interview with Football Focus on BBC World News where he said: “I think what Samir was saying was definitely true… To be honest, proper recognition has only come from the fans… I don’t want to be hard and I don’t want to be negative, but I want to be honest.”

Ahead of the game, FabAfriq Magazine had already discerned that this was one player who needed to be given the accolades he deserves. FabAfriq caught up with Toure and he had a lot to say with regards to his role as the face of One.org’s DoAgric project. It shows that Yaya Toure is not only good on the field, he is good with promoting the usage of another type of field for economic prosperity.

The full interview is featured in the current issue of FabAfriq Magazine.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon: Symptom of a Country in Travail

Introduction

There may be a relationship between good governance of a country and the performance of the national football team. Of course this is arguably a logic that may not hold true in most cases, but I do not want to simply sweep the possibility under the carpet. The dismal performance in the past few years, of the Cameroonian National Football team, fondly called the ‘Indomitable Lions’, may seem to the casual observer as one of the manifestations of the cyclic nature of history where institutions rise and fall. But to a person who takes a closer look at the last 3 decades, it is no isolated incident in the history of a country that seems to be marked for extinction.

The humiliating defeat on October, 14th, 2012, of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, a country of over 20 million, by the tiny Island of Cape Verde, a country of about 500,000 people, was not the first, but one of a series of manifestations of the imminent collapse of not just the national team but the country itself. The size of a country may not really matter in a game of football but the history of any institution does matter.

The Rise and Stagger of the Indomitable Lions

1990 - Oman Biyik lifts the team up
1990 – Oman Biyik lifts the team up

The entry of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon into the hall of Fame was in 1982 when they first played at the FIFA World Cup Finals. The team has made more appearances than any other African team for the FIFA World Cup, 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010, and are credited for being the first African team to reach the quarter-final of the World Cup, in 1990, losing to England in injury time. However, it would seem the team sustained an injury during that time that has become difficult to heal. This is because the injury was not sustained in the field but off-the field as the makers of the Cameroon Polity saw it as an opportunity to get the team entangled in its politics of corruption and underdevelopment.[1]

In 1994 Cameroonians united as never before and maybe, never again on a common goal – supporting the Indomitable Lions. The Opération coup de Coeur launched by the then Prime Minister Simon Achidi Achu and the then Minister of Communication Augustin Kontchou Kouomegni, as a National Fundraiser to support the Indomitable Lions’ USA Campaign, came against the backdrop of the country’s refusal to disburse funds for the team that had made the Nation proud four years previously. [2] The operation was a resounding success as Cameroonians from all walks of life donated their widow’s mites that made up the 4 million that paradoxically, never reached the Indomitable Lions.  When asked of the whereabouts of the money, Kouomegni simply said: “l’argent s’est perdue quelque part dans le ciel entre Paris et New York[3] (Pigeaud, 2011, p 195). Kontchou’s crass remarks went unquestioned, while a journalist earned a suspension for daring to mention J. A. Bell[4]’s criticism of the infamous comments.

With such a gross act of broad daylight robbery against the Cameroonian people, little wonder the Lions had a terrible campaign in the USA suffering the worst defeat of recent memory to Russia, albeit with Roger Miller, scoring the lone goal and making history as the oldest player to have played and scored at the world cup.[5] One would have thought that this would be the end of the Indomitable Lions, but as their name signifies, they were not daunted. In 1998, they made another attempt on the World stage, which again failed to replicate the results of 1990, but two years later in the year 2000, the squad won the Nation’s first-ever gold at the Olympics in Sydney and it seemed to have signalled a new dawn for the team.

Squad of World Cup 1990
Squad of World Cup 1990

Reinvigorated, the team won the African Cup of Nations and came top of their group in the 2002 world cup qualifies but again, 1990 seemed to be a long time gone in to history as they produced yet another heartbreaking result for Cameroonian. However, the win of the African cup of Nations meant that in 2003, they were to participate in the FIFA Confederations Cup. The Lions put up their best performance in a competition outside of Africa but unfortunately, by the 72nd minute of the semi-final between Cameroon and Colombia, Marc-Vivien Foé collapsed and was pronounced dead a few hours later. Cameroon lost to France in the finals. This loss seemed to close the curtains on the Indomitable

2003 - Foe left the pitch never to return
2003 – Foe left the pitch never to return

Lions, as a team.

They failed to qualify for the 2006 world cup, (the first time since 1990 and the second since 1982), had their worst ever World Cup campaign in 2010 and have failed to qualify two consecutive times for the African Cup of Nations.[6]

The indomitable Lions and Biya’s Regime: The parallel

1982 is definitely an important year for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Cameroon’s 2nd President, Paul Biya. While the Lions made their debut in the World Cup, Biya made his debut as president of the country. Both events however, could only have been possible through skilful planning of previous years – the former, because the Ahmadou Ahidjo regime had the largesse to host the 1972 African Nations Cup (the only tournament the country has hosted in the last 40 years), which ostensibly meant the provision of infrastructure of better training and preparation, and the latter because Ahidjo ‘loved’ Cameroon so much that he decided to resign and hand over power on grounds of ill-health. [7]

6 Terms for Biya - 6 Lions appearances at the World Cup
6 Terms for Biya – 6 Lions appearances at the World Cup

Diminishing returns seemed to have set in rather too early for both the team and the regime. One failed to qualify for the 1986 World Cup, and the other drove the economy to a crisis. The “Cameroon economic crises” resulted in rising prices in Cameroon, trade deficits, and loss of government revenue. The crisis was officially acknowledged by the Cameroon government in 1987. While external observers and critics blamed poor government stewardship of the economy, the government instead placed the blame on the fall of the prices of exports, particularly a steep drop in the price of petroleum. Cameroon balked at the condition to follow strict cost-cutting suggestions laid out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and took a seemingly wise decision to formulate her own plan, which turned out in principle, to be not much different from that proposed earlier.

As was to be expected these measures met with international approval, but violent crime rose as a result of the increase in unemployment. Cameroon’s plan failed to curb corruption. By October, 1988, the intended effect was less than had been hoped, and Cameroon was left with no other option than to agree to an IMF aid package worth $150 million and to accept a structural adjustment program (SAP) loan. The African Development Bank, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom loaned the government further funds (Delancey and Delancey, 2000). In the midst of this entire economic quagmire, the Lions bounced back and qualified for the 1990 World Cup finals.

The winds of change blowing across the world in 1990 did not leave out the Indomitable Lions and Biya’s government. On May, 26th 1990, the launching of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) meant the end of Biya’s one-party rule. The euphoria of the SDF launching was however, clouded by the success of the National team in the 1990 World Cup finals.

The 1992 presidential elections which the SDF allegedly won but was denied by the Biya government had been preceded in March of the same year with the appointment of Simon Achidi Achu[8], as the first Anglophone Prime Minister[9]. While the intention was to effectively orchestrate a dived-and-rule policy, Achu became the person to initiate and launch the 1994 Opération coup de Coeur. The outcome of the fundraiser clearly epitomises the level of Cameroonian politics and how festered it is by corruption. That both Achu and Kouomegni have never been called to answer for the disappearance of the said money, and given that upon leaving the Prime Ministry in 1996, the former has held many more positions of responsibility are only indications of how Biya’s government rewards corruption with better appointments. But corruption, like any dangerous virus, leaves a scar in its wake.

Thirty Years of ‘Undevelopment’

A trip I made across six of the ten regions of Cameroon, (Littoral, South West, Adamawa, North West, West and Centre) in September, 2011, revealed exactly what the country typifies. While it is fondly called ‘Africa in Miniature’ because of its diversity and richness, it also embodies the plight of the African continent. I was stunned to find this rich nation, an exporter of petroleum and many natural resources steeped in the morass of poverty and dilapidation. The effects of 30 years of rapacious political leadership, political patronage, large scale corruption, abject poverty, structural injustice, executive recklessness, total abuse of human rights and the widespread abuse of power were all too evident. [10]

Typical Cameroonian Road
Typical Cameroonian Road

 

The Cameroon polity and its National team both stand as the quintessence of the Marxian class society, the gargantuan disparity of privilege for a very tiny class, misery for the vast populace.[11] The sombre clouds of such a dismal reality, coupled with corruption across the government and governing body of FECAFOOT, to the failed promises made to Marc Vivien who died in the battlefield are reasons enough to destroy the fighting spirit of even the bravest lion.

When a child is born in a country, and grows up to realise that the only positive variable is their age, while everything else is held constant or diminishing; when a young person grows up to see roads and other transportation networks disappearing and becoming death-traps; when such a person, sees basic amenities like water and electricity supply drop in an age of increasing technological advancement in other parts of the world and all they hear from a stagnant political class are empty speeches about a ‘Cameroon of Great Ambitions’; when a young man grows in a country and believes that the only way to be successful is to travel to another; when the only thing that a country is known for is football and when this begins to dwindle into oblivion, then it is time to weep  for such a country.

Results of 30 Years of 'Great Ambitions'
Results of 30 Years of ‘Great Ambitions’

Conclusion

If anyone is wondering where I am going with this analysis, then, wonder no further than the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Index of African Governance which awards a $5 million Prize to a democratically elected former African head of state or government, who governed well, raised living standards, and then voluntarily left office.. This Index ranks African countries by progress across 88 indicators in four categories: safety and the rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development. While Cape Verde in 2012 came 2nd, Cameroon came 37th. [12]

Last year, in 2011, Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires won the prize while Paul Biya of Cameroon won another 7-year term in office, after 29 years. In 2012, it should not have been surprising then that Cape Verde beat the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to qualify for the African Nations Cup. Hence, if one were attempting to look at the correlation between good governance and good performance in football, look no further than the case of Cameroon and Cape Verde.

Notes

[1][1] See Fanny Pigeaud, (2011) Au Cameroun de Paul Biya Paris: Editions Karthala, http://www.amazon.fr/cameroun-Paul-Biya-Fanny-Pigeaud/dp/2811105263#reader_2811105263

[2] Pambazuka News, “What makes Biya’s despotic regime tick” http://pambazuka.org/en/category/books/77469

[3] Translation: “The money got missing somewhere in the sky between Paris and New York”.

[4] One of the goalkeepers of the Indomitable Lions

[5] FIFA.COM Roger Milla, the pride of the Indomitable Lions http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/players/player=79318/index.html

[6]APA News  Cameroon knocked out of CAN qualifiers http://www.apanews.net/photo/en/photo.php?id=185889

[7] Mark W. Delancey and Mark Dike Delancey, (2000) Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon, 3rd. ed., Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press

[8] from the same Bamenda where the SDF was launched

[10] See for example Banda, C. (2012) Much Needs To Be Done About Human Rights In Cameroon http://www.cameroonpostline.com/Content.aspx?ModuleID=1&ItemID=9326

[11] See allAfrica.com Cameroon: Fecafoot to Construct Ultra-modern Office http://allafrica.com/stories/201211141181.html

[12] Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2012 Summary http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/downloads/2012-IIAG-summary-report.pdf

Africans and the Olympic Games – What is the Motivation?

What will Africans be Remembered for?

Cameroonians supposedly ‘missing’ during Olympics

Shortly before the beginning of the just concluded Olympic Games, I wrote a piece for FabAfriq Magazine  carrying the same title as this post – Africans and the Olympic Games: What is the motivation? I began by asking a question and logically addressing it:

…what are the Olympic Games all about – what motivates people to come to them?

Of course, Pythagoras, many centuries BC had clearly stated that: “There are three sorts of people that attend the Olympic Games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell, the next above them are those who compete. Best of all, however, are those who come simply to look on.”

I went on to conclude after challenging some of Pythagoras’ assumptions especially with reference to Africans and arrived at the conclusion that what motivates them is:

 Love of the games; patriotism – they can come in any order – but no more no less.

When the Olympics kick-off in London, Kenyans will win gold medals in track events, Nigerians will win gold in football (as they did in 1996) or other events, Africans from different nooks and crannies of the continent will prove their worth in gold in several sporting events. One thing that should cross the minds of anyone watching is this – all these people are making it out of nothing. Some will only be recognised if they win something – some have been only because they were able to make it to the very top – on their own.

If one is looking for people who need nothing much in life to succeed than an opportunity – look no further – watch out for Africans during the Olympic Games 2012 in London.

As we throw a glance back on London 2012 Olympics, it will likely be remembered for breathtaking performances,  the plethora of firsts for women, men and their nations, and the spirit of London that reverberated around the globe, from the scintillating and wonderfully executed opening ceremony, through the many performances and culminating in a quintessential British concert that was the closing ceremony.

There is no doubt that the UK will want us to always remember that the did so well both in hosting and coming third – second to the USA and China – Michael Phelps will be remembered for becoming the most decorated Olympian. Usain Bolt solidified his status as the world’s greatest sprinter after doubts were heaped upon him before the Games but it does not end there – his relationship to a ‘White’ lady becomes an issue for massive debate.

Gabby Douglas will be remembered for being one of those to make history for her country by winning one medal individually and helping her team win another – but again – unfortunately, she will be remembered more for being the lady who did not do her hair as many would have wanted.

The link I can make between Bolt and Gabby is their ancestry which is undoubtedly African. At this stage therefore, I am apt to ask another question: What will Africans be remembered for after the Olympics?

The African Mo Farah will be celebrated for making history in the long-distance track event – and his victory is not marred by negative news! Oh! I forgot he is British! So nothing negative trails his victory.

Let me take a look at the general African Olympic standings:

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
South Africa 3 2 1 6
Ethiopia 3 0 3 6
Kenya 2 4 4 10
Tunisia 1 1 1 3
Uganda 1 0 0 1
Algeria 1 0 0 1
Egypt 0 2 0 2
Botswana 0 1 0 1
Morocco 0 0 1 1

Not too bad but not too wonderful – but going by my initial submission – many of these should be celebrated because many achieved something from nothing – many came from countries with myriads of problems: war-torn countries; countries stricken by famine and drought; countries still struggling to come out of waves of revolutions; countries at logger-heads with their neighbours – just to name a few. But were these modest achievements celebrated? Maybe! But again like everything African, the achievement is immediately clouded by unfavourable news. This time Africa will not be remembered by the medals won but by the news of athletes supposed to have ‘absconded’ or gone missing. The headlines on western media after the Olympics have been screaming like this one on Eurosport

More African athletes go missing in London

From the Telegraph to Reuters, to the Guardian, to BBC to CNN these has been what has been making news. From the initial story that came out about 7 Cameroonians ‘missing’ through to the most recent ones from Guinea, Ivory Coast to the DRC, the foregone conclusion has been that their motives for ‘absconding’ is economic! I will not challenge this conclusion given the situation in the countries all named – but I will like to ask a few questions:

Why is the media so obsessed with negative news about Africa or people of African decent?

Participants at the Olympics have up to November to legally stay in the UK – what then is this talk about people going missing – does their decision to leave their teams or camps automatically translate to a decision to stay after the expiration of their visas?

Would the language have been the same had some Europeans not been found in their hotels or camps during an event in Africa or Asia? I guess not – they would have been branded to have been kidnapped!

With the current situation in Europe, are western media outlets not being hypocritical to make it seem like Europe could be a safe haven for anyone? At least I know many people who are legally living in the continent, well qualified, with the right to work but finding it difficult to get jobs because of the recession – to make it seem as if anyone coming in would have it easy could be misleading to say the least. Casual work in the UK has become a luxury so I wonder how those who ‘abscond’ are going to survive.

What ever the answers to these questions – I guess the news is serving its purpose – making the UK look good and an appealing destination even for Olympians – while making Africa look bad – as usual. Hence, while others are making news for their achievements – Africa is being remembered for what she is – a continent where no one wants to live!

This has brought to life a question that will be asked even as the world looks towards the next Olympics in Brazil – what will be the motivation for African athletes?